News and Resources from the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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Conference of Bishops (COB) Overview

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Portico Discount Opportunity

Our Chance For $21,000 in Savings for our Synod Portico Benefit Services is again offering us the opportunity to earn a 2% discount on ELCA health contributions this year. Each congregation and organization in our synod will receive a 2% discount on all of this year’s health contributions if 65% of our eligible ELCA‐Primary health plan members and eligible spouses complete the confidential Mayo Clinic Health Assessment January 1 – April 30.

This year, we could collectively save approximately $21,000! If you have ELCA‐Primary health benefits, we need your help. Take this year’s Mayo Clinic Health Assessment January 1 – April 30. You’ll earn a $150 credit to your wellness account to offset out of pocket medical costs, and will help us earn a 2% discount on the cost of your health coverage. If your spouse has ELCA‐Primary health benefits and completes the Mayo Clinic Health Assessment, too, you’ll receive another $150 wellness dollars into your wellness account, and will help us earn our synod‐wide 2% discount on health contributions.

New this year: To take the Mayo Clinic Health Assessment, access Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Living online directly through myPortico — no separate Mayo Clinic ID and password necessary. Go to PorticoBenefits.org/HealthyLiving for details. There’s no longer a separate Mayo Clinic user ID and password. Spouses must register for their own myPortico account using details that we’ve mailed to them. Spouses and members cannot share a myPortico account.

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We need to talk

Church the appropriate place for deep, honest, even painful conversation about race

By Elizabeth A. Eaton

This summer and fall our country was shaken by violence—the violent encounters between police and young African-American men in Ferguson, Mo., New York and Cleveland, and the violence of communities of color reacting to decisions of grand juries. And, just before Christmas, we were saddened and sickened by the assassination of two New York City police officers as they sat in their patrol car. So much loss of life. Such a forfeit of hope.

What had happened to us that our country and communities should so quickly fracture? And how could it be that people living in the same place and time, breathing the same air, could have such different experiences of life in the U.S.?

Just after the grand jury announcement in the Ferguson case, the staff at the Lutheran Center in Chicago got together for lunch and conversation. Staff members who are people of color talked about their experience of race in the U.S. Person after person told stories of being followed by store employees when shopping; of uncomfortable encounters with law enforcement; of the need to teach their children, especially their sons, specific ways to behave when stopped by police; and which neighborhoods to avoid.

These are your staff. They are decent churchgoing family people who work for the ELCA because they believe in our mission and want to make the world a better place in Jesus’ name.

I also think about all the members of law enforcement whom I’ve served as a parish pastor. I can’t think of a single one who made the decision each day to harass people of color. These were decent churchgoing family people who went into law enforcement because they wanted to make the world a better place, even at the potential risk of their own lives.

At its root this is not about law enforcement and the legal system. I wouldn’t want to live in a community that didn’t have police. This is a broken and sometimes dangerous world. The first use of the law (the commandments) is that “external discipline may be maintained against the unruly and the disobedient” (Formula of Concord, Article VI). In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther teaches us that an orderly community and good government are part of what we ask for when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

No, the tension now between communities of color and law enforcement and the different perception of and reaction to Ferguson and New York by white Americans and African-Americans is a symptom of a deeper issue—the issue of race in this country. It’s difficult to talk about this for many reasons: we don’t want to believe racism still exists in 21st-century America, we want to believe that we’re past that as a society, it makes the majority culture feel defensive, we don’t want to be thought of as racist, and it’s just plain hard to talk about.

But not talking about it won’t make it go away. Some might argue that the church is no place for such a “political” issue, that we should be concerned with the spiritual, not the temporal. But I’m convinced that not only is the church the appropriate place for this conversation, it might be the only place where the deep, honest, even painful conversation about race can take place so people feel they have been heard, and change and healing can happen.

The church has many resources to help members and congregations talk with each other about race. “Talking Together as Christians about Tough Social Issues” and “Talking Together as Christians Cross-Culturally: A Field Guide” are two ELCA publications available online (search for these titles at www.elca.org). Our bishops and synod staffs are ready and willing to walk with congregations as we engage in this.

But the greatest resource we have comes to us new every day: baptism. In baptism we are claimed by Christ—held fast by Christ, loved by Christ with a love so strong no power in heaven or earth can separate us from it (Romans 8:31-39). In baptism, sin and death have been beaten. In baptism, we have been made new. Redeemed, loved, free people can talk to each other about race.

We need to talk.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address: bishop@elca.org. This column originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of The Lutheran.
Reprinted with permission.

ELCA presiding bishop offers prayer, hope in wake of Ferguson decision

By: Melissa Ramirez Cooper, ELCA News

CHICAGO (ELCA) – In response to the St. Louis County grand jury decision Nov. 24 not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), offered a word of prayer and hope.

“As a nation, we are struggling with and divided by the decision. It has affected so many of us in so many different ways. We want the assurance that all of this means something. We want to know that someone cares. Has not God created all of us to have inherent dignity, value and worth?” she wrote in a pastoral statement to the 3.8 million-member ELCA.

“Despite the anger, violence and injustice connected with this sad and horrible tragedy, we should not abandon our hope or our neighbors. Let’s join Michael Brown’s father and call for peace. The reconciliation we have with God in Christ leads us to our neighbors with the hope that we can engage one another in a common cause.

“We come together at the cross. It is our only hope. And, resting in the conviction that we are redeemed, we can begin the hard work of confronting the reality of systemic racism in our country. Because of the cross, we have peace; we have hope; we are loved. I join with you in prayer for the Brown family, Officer Wilson and his family, the prosecutor and his family, the grand jurors and their families, the community of Ferguson and all who work for justice and peace,” Eaton said.

According to Judith Roberts, ELCA director for racial justice ministries, “pursuing racial justice must be on-going deliberate work that changes policies and practices across all sectors of society. If we truly desire a just society, we must ensure every community has access to quality education, affordable homes, safe jobs, fair living wages and accountability within the criminal justice system.”

“When attitudes persist that some communities are less desirable, when the practice of racial profiling is the norm, implicit bias prevalent, a pervasive community distrust of law enforcement exist – there exists only frustration for the many voices that still feel unheard. There are actions we can take today to call for reform both at the state and federal level,” said Roberts.

“ELCA members are encouraged to support long-standing civil rights organizations that fight to end racism and ensure justice for all and advocate for and support legislation that would end racial profiling,” said Roberts. “As a church of moral discernment, I would also lift up what we have said as a church, particularly in the ELCA social statement, ‘The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries,’” she said.

The Rev. Roger Gustafson, bishop of the ELCA Central States Synod, based in Kansas City, Mo., said that the announcement of the grand jury “has angered some and pleased others, assured some of ‘the system’s’ validity, and convinced others of ‘the system’s’ corruption. People have taken to the streets – some to express frustration at this particular decision, others to pursue their own agendas – but none of those who have engaged in violence has honored Michael Brown or respected the wishes of his parents, who have called for calm and the peaceful pursuit of justice.”

“During the three months of deliberation by the grand jury as to whether white police officer Darren Wilson should be charged in the death of black citizen Michael Brown, the emotions and reactions have flowed. Underneath the surface responses, however, people who are guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ might suspect that deeper rhythms are at work,” Gustafson wrote.

In a reflection, the Rev. Stephen Bouman, executive director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission, expressed his sadness, particularly in the death of Michael Brown. “His family is grieving. The death of young Black males by police still happens too often in our communities. I am sad that a rite of passage in young Black lives is to learn survival skills as they learn how to negotiate being out and about in the world and encounters with law enforcement,” he said. “My deepest sadness is for Michael’s parents and family. May their child rest in the arms of our Good Shepherd.”

The full text of the presiding bishop’s message is available at http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Pastoral_Word_on_Ferguson.pdf; the ELCA’s social statement, “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” at http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture and the social statement, “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” at http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Criminal-Justice#sthash.TyDhiqLD.dpuf. The National Council of Churches of Christ statement regarding the grand jury’s decision is available at http://www.nationalcouncilofchurches.us/news/2014-11fergusonnoindictment.php.

Ferguson

The death of an unarmed young black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO and subsequent protests since August have brought to the surface once again the hideous reality of racism in our country, a reality that continues to rear its ugly head seemingly at will. The decision by the Grand Jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson set off a new round of protests; some peaceful and some violent, both in Ferguson as well as across this nation. People have been pointing fingers at the system, at the Grand Jury, at the police officers who have fought back the crowds, at the justice system itself as well as at individuals. Pointing the finger is easy to do for us, it moves the blame from us to others.

Yet, as we were all told, when one points a finger at someone else, three are pointing back at us. This is not a problem for Ferguson or communities of minorities or the poor, this is our problem as a nation and as a church. Until we can name the demons we can’t begin to cast them out. Until we are able to sit down with those who are strangers and see in them not only friends but the face of Christ we will fail the process. Until we recognize the racism in our own hearts and lives and place it on the table for discussion we won’t move forward.

Christ calls us to forgiveness and hope, to be present in the broken places as he was present during his ministry among those who were broken and is present with us now in our failings and faltering lives. How do we find a way to address this brokenness in our society in a healthy, helpful and productive manner? I’m not certain, but we must find a way for until we do we will continue to experience the present reality as it plays itself out across this nation and world again and again and again.

The Church has a word of promise and hope, grounded in forgiveness, as we recognize and give voice to our sinfulness and seek grace freely offered. Is it time for us to enter into a deep conversation around this issue that calls us all to recognize our shortcomings and sins and see in others not their color or economic standing or social status? If not, when? If so, how? I don’t have the answers but we must begin asking the questions and answering them honestly and faithfully.

I invite you to join me and others in prayer in these days that we might find a way to peace and equality, living into the dream that Dr. King so longed for during his life. Pray for the people of Ferguson as well as those other places the world around where racism exists and thrives openly and freely. Pray for this church, that we might be a beacon of hope and light, grounded in the One who makes all One. Pray for peace and live into that peace.

Michael Brown Sr, the day before the Grand Jury results were released, offered these words: “I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that leaves the St. Louis region better for everyone.” I would add “that leaves this country better for everyone.” May it be so among us.

Redeeming God your arms embrace all now despised for creed or race
Let peace, descending like a dove, make known on earth your healing love.

Indwelling God, your Gospel claims one fam’ly with a billion names
Let every life be touched by grace until we praise you face to face.
Creating God, Your Fingers Trace: ELW 684

John S. Macholz, Bishop

Upstate New York Synod